Four Takeaways From NRF 2020: A CEO's perspective


With many still focused on new year's resolutions, retailers were already busy making future plans. In fact, some 40,000 of them gathered to share their innovative business ideas at NRF 2020 in New York City. It was an event that opened up the eyes of many.

The three-day show allowed visitors to share both their past experiences and their 2020 vision with 16,000 retailers from 99 countries, with 800 exhibitions in all and sessions filled with valuable takeaways. 

I had the chance to be there – and trust me, it was worth every minute! From social commerce, consumer behavior trends, and client loyalty to sustainability and capitalizing waste. We live in a world where our consumers are more demanding each day. Clients need product quality and great CX while calling for social and environmental responsibility. Today, retailers are obliged to think about those demands, and in order to meet them, they need to have a solid vision for the years ahead. 

That was the purpose of this year’s NRF: to look at the retail horizon. All of the industry makers came together to see beyond what we already know about the business and to reveal their predictions about the future. With plenty of learnings to choose from, I would like to share four subjects every retailer should keep in mind for their future business strategy. 

  1. It’s time to get creative with brick-and-mortar stores. 

As many experts exposed during the sessions, omnichannel will continue to be extremely important for any retail brand, but brick-and-mortar will also keep playing a key role at the center of each experience. 

Some years ago, we might have thought that brick-and-mortar stores would go extinct with the arrival of e-commerce. But recent years have proved us wrong. In fact, digitally native brands are predicted to open 850 brick-and-mortar stores in the next 5 years. At NRF, we discovered that brick-and-mortar stores are the options brands today are opting for to set themselves apart from their competitors.

The omnichannel experience is showing us that street-side stores still stand out in terms of offered value, not only because of how aesthetically beautiful the stores are set up, but also of how retailers can make the shopping experience unique, faster, seamless, and frictionless. That’s why today, we are starting to see offerings like in-store pickups and return, frictionless check-out, and the innovative experience of having third-party storage lockers that allow multiple sources to fulfill orders in a single location.

Moreover, brick-and-mortar stores are allowing retailers to enhance CX with creative features. As we saw at NRF, technology today is taking the shopping experience to the future with magic mirrors that apply AR to show how an outfit would look on a customer without them having to actually try out the outfit. 

Brick-and-mortar stores are here to stay and are hardly replaceable but retailers must also learn from it and innovate across their channels in order to offer the best omnichannel service possible.

  1. Employees will unlock organizational momentum

Another interesting trend for 2020 that I would definitely pay close attention to is how the vision we have for our employees should be the number one priority of each business.

Inclusion needs to be at the top of our minds today, tomorrow, and always. It is not only a matter of ethics, but also of business strategy. Having a diverse team at the C-level is incredibly important for business development. Without diversity how can a brand understand and talk to a multicultural, multiethnic and diverse audience? Macy’s, for example, is betting on this by setting a goal to achieve 30% ethnic diversity at the senior director level and above by 2025. 

NRF also showed that in order to improve the customer experience, retailers also need to focus on the wellbeing and happiness of their employees. As clients, we all have experienced a disengaged front line employee and this is a complete setback for brand loyalty. But what if companies started to honestly care about their employees, their vision for the company, and their talent? The outcomes would be much better. 

  1. Customer experience will continue to be the pivot. 

One of the recurrent themes during the three-day show was customer experience. Of course, in the end, the fact that customers love our brands and keep shopping from online and offline stores is any retailer’s ultimate goal.  

But today, customers know a lot about any product even before they go to the store and this digital knowledge can present a challenge. Retailers need to offer a personalized and unique experience to each client profile in order to compete. It’s no longer about giving information, it’s about enhancing the information consumers already have. 

How can we do that? We already talked about brick-and-mortar shopping experience opportunities, but we can also make the most out of sales and product data. The use of AI and other innovative technologies can help retailers to better use these insights to, for example, notice changes in customer purchasing habits in order to improve their customer service or to figure out their customer’s needs based on a profound product data analysis.

  1. Improved cross-selling for 2020

In an era where price competition is fierce and profit margins are being squeezed as never before, retailers must adopt alternative tactics to fight back and survive the market. 

Creating value and delivering it the right way is the core of customer experience and cross-selling has been proven to be one of the best tools to increase sales as it’s a win-win situation for both the retailer and the customer. The retailer will be able to easily sell more whilst the customer has a faster, easier and more gratifying experience.

We’ve always had shopper assistants at physical stores who are able to assist customers with their purchases so why not mimic that in e-commerce?

Making the most out of customer and product data in order to improve cross-selling experience is a direction to take and making it part of business strategies.

NRF 2020 made retailers shake their heads. The future is as challenging as exciting. High-tech is becoming one ally for retailers and in order to continue to be competitive and valid, they need to leverage it as much as possible – even if it takes baby steps. To improve customer experience, this year the attention needs to spin towards innovating what seems to be “the classics”: brick-and-mortar stores, customer experience and turning our heads to our workforce.

Anthony Ng Monica is CEO of Swogo.

More Blog Posts In This Series